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Violence Against Persons Act Amendment Bill To Abolish Degrading Widowhood Practices

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A bill to amend the Violence against Persons Act 2015 to Prohibit Discrimination against Widows and all Forms of Repressive and Degrading Widowhood Practices (HB 1711) passed second reading in the House of Representatives on 17th February 2022. The bill is sponsored by Hon. Adejoro Adeogun (APC: Ondo). It seeks to amend four sections of the principal Act, to strengthen provisions that protect widows from harmful practices meted out to them by virtue of custom, traditions or cultural beliefs, which violate their rights. It also reinforces the rights of widows in conformity with international conventions to which Nigeria is a signatory. The bill seeks to introduce a new section 15 of the Principal  Act, which criminalises the subjection of a widow to “harmful widowhood practices” and stipulates stiffer penalties for offenders in comparison to what is contained in the extant law. These new penalties range from an imprisonment term of two years or a fine of N100,000 or both to an imprisonment term of seven years without any option of fine. It also introduces remedies for victims, as may be determined by the Courts.

The bill expands the meaning of harmful widowhood practices to include all behaviour, attitude or practice which negatively affect the rights of a widow, including compelling her to express her sorrow for the loss of her husband by dressing or acting in a particular way or making certain lifestyle changes. These also include property grabbing from a widow, willing her matrimonial home to another person, transfer of legal guardianship of her child(ren) to another person, disinheriting her from a property jointly owned by her deceased husband and in-laws, among other acts.

In addition to rights vested by the Constitution or other international instruments to which Nigeria is a signatory, the bill specifically provides that a widow shall have the right to continue to live in her matrimonial home and where she re-marries, retain the home if it belongs to or is inherited by her. She also has the right to inherit from a property jointly owned by her deceased husband and in-laws, enter a marriage of her choice, own and administer property/enter into a contract/access credit without being accountable to her in-laws, and be vested with guardianship of her child(ren).

The bill stipulates the 23rd of May every year as the National Day for the Prohibition of Discrimination against Widows, Women and Girls. It also expands the powers of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons and other related matters (NAPTIP) as the agency in charge of administering its provisions. In addition to making rules and regulations to guide implementation of the provisions of the Act, the bill specifically empowers NAPTIP to promote and provide for the protection, maintenance and welfare of abandoned and destitute widows and their dependent children, and maintain a register of widows. The agency will also be responsible for handling applications for the provision of facilities such as monthly financial allowances, residential accommodation, free education (for dependent children of widows), gainful employment, vocational training and other facilities for widows who are infirm, destitute or have dependent children. However, the bill also provides for the withdrawal of these facilities when a  widow who is a recipient of such facilities becomes gainfully employed or remarries.

Calls for an end to harmful practices against widows have been the subject of advocacy for women’s rights, with people calling for an end to repugnant practices against widows meted out to them by family members and the communities in the name of culture and tradition.